French Cuisine without the French Prices
La Dijonaise serves up affordable French food in a casual atmosphere.
By Geoff Maleman



When Pascal Donzel came to the United States from his native France in 1992, he arrived with little in his pocket, the prospect of a job helping to open a bakery in Long Beach and not a word of English.

“He could only say ‘Marlboro Lights,’” joked his wife, Thanh.

As it turned out, Pascal’s new boss was Thanh’s uncle.

“We met and he never left,” Thanh said. “It’s one of those romantic love stories.”

And if the French are famous for love, they are also famous for croissants, pastries and high brow cuisine with prices to match.

Pascal and Thanh, however, decided that when they opened their restaurant, La Dijonaise, in the Helms Bakery Building nearly three years ago they would serve fine French food, but without all the snooty attitude and high prices.

“I try to keep costs down and stay affordable,” said Pascal, who does much of the restaurant’s “grunt work” himself. “Yesterday, I was in at 4 a.m. baking, and didn’t leave until 10 p.m. because we had a private party.”

Baking in the morning and cooking at night, Pascal relies on family recipes handed down from generation to generation.

Among the standard French dishes on the La Dijonaise menu are everything from escargots and Quiche Lorraine to Coq au Vin and Boeuf Bourguignon.

What isn’t standard are the prices.

Half a dozen escargots in a garlic butter sauce are just $5.95. The Boeuf Bourguignon is just $9.95. And there isn’t a single entrée on the menu for more than $16.

At those prices, La Dijonaise is attracting plenty of regular folks looking for great French food.

“We are doing especially well for lunch,” said Pascal of the 78-seat restaurant. “We get lots of neighborhood people — people from Sony, the Hayden Tract, the offices.”

“People always say, ‘You’re so cheap,’” Thanh added. “They are surprised at how casual it is and how often they can come by and still afford it.”

La Dijonaise is open for breakfast (serving a wide variety of croissants and pastries baked on the premises), lunch and dinner (when it attracts a large crowd from the Jazz Bakery and the Gascon Theater next door).

While the restaurant has been a closely held secret for those in the know, the word is getting out.

Los Angeles Magazine recently honored La Dijonaise for serving the “Best Croissant in L.A.” as part of its annual Best of LA issue.

“We’ve been selling a lot more croissants since then,” Thanh said.

Despite the success of the bakery, La Dijonaise’s stock in trade is its unique offering of entrees inspired by Pascal’s youth in the Dijon region of France.
Perhaps the best item on the menu is La Dijonaise’s Poulet Dijon — a wonderful grilled chicken breast in a Dijon mustard sauce served with potatoes and vegetables for just $8.95.

“That’s definitely one of everyone’s favorite dishes,” Thanh said.

Of course, if you’re not interested in French cuisine, La Dijonaise performs equally well when serving spinach lasagna, Greek salad or even a double bacon cheeseburger.

“We have something for everyone,” Thanh said.

Pascal says he is constantly fielding offers to open another restaurant or expand, but he’s comfortable right where he is.

“I have people ask me that once a week, but I’m not interested. Once you open another restaurant, the quality is not the same anymore. We have a long lease, so we’re going to be here for a long time.”

That’s good news for anyone who likes French food without the French prices.

Culver City People, September 2003